Gourmet For The Road

You could get Chinese or fried chicken on the nights you're too beat to cook. Or you could get gourmet-to-go at our critic's favorite food boutiques.

August 23, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

You've had a long, hard day at work and stopped off at the gym before you made your way home. You're too tired to cook, too tired even to eat out. You're the ideal candidate for the hottest new trend in the food industry, "home meal replacement" - which happens to be as old as a 1950s' frozen dinner.

The difference is that the '90s version of the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and peas in the little aluminum tray is something like this: boneless chicken breast marinated with fajita spices and grilled, pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes and capers, and haricots verts - all sold by the pound under the label "gourmet to go."

Of course, today's harried consumers could get fried chicken and potato salad from the deli or take-out Chinese; but because people are eating out so much, they're often looking for home meal replacements that are more interesting, fresher and healthier than the ones that have always been around. That usually means more expensive as well.

"Gourmet" is an overused word. But there is something to be said for a specialty store that makes its own balsamic vinaigrette, cooks its green beans in real butter, uses fresh coriander and has couscous as well as mashed potatoes.

Most places that sell food, including supermarket chains and restaurants, have jumped on the gourmet-to-go bandwagon. The field has gotten so crowded (and take-out gourmet can be so costly), we decided readers needed a guide to help them find their way through the thicket of basmati rice salads, marinated flank steaks and grilled vegetables.

Below is a look at some of the best gourmet prepared food in the area. This doesn't mean you can't get some very good dinners-to-go at your local supermarket or favorite Italian restaurant. But these are our nine favorite food boutiques.

Why not 10? When one candidate handed us a package of Ken's Lite Italian dressing to go on a Greek salad, and another didn't use fresh corn in a tomato and corn dish in August, we had to

eliminate them - and several others that almost made it. So nine it is.

Eddie's

5113 Roland Ave., 410-323-3656

The gourmet-to-go at Eddie's on Roland Avenue is quite traditional, and its Roland Park clientele likes it that way. This is the place to go to get the kind of food you'd fix yourself if you had time to fix it.

Sometimes you'll come across something unusual (and super) like cavatelli pasta with rock shrimp, tomatoes, cheese and fresh basil. But Eddie's fried chicken, sliced tenderloin, fat crab cakes, whipped potatoes, Caesar salad and the like are its mainstay.

Even the most ordinary fare can be very good. Still, there are slips. A filet of salmon stuffed with spinach was overcooked to begin with, and reheating compounded the problem.

The young woman who waited on me knew the food and made good recommendations. (The salmon was my own choice.) She also took the time to give precise directions on reheating, a real plus.

Eddie's

6213 N. Charles St., 410-377-8040

You would think that the prepared food at one Eddie's would be the same as at the other's, but not so. Two different chefs, two different kitchens. Some people feel quite strongly about one over the other. I don't see a great deal of difference; but the Charles Street branch does have more room for gourmet-to-go, so the selection is as varied as you'll find anywhere around here.

This means, for instance, that you can get duck a l'orange as well as the ubiquitous chicken, roast tenderloin as well as the ubiquitous marinated flank steak. There are often at least two different kinds of fish - and not always the salmon you usually find at prepared food counters.

Places with limited space don't do much with vegetables, but the Eddie's on Charles has steamed vegetables, grilled vegetables, broccoli, sweet potato fries and more. (There are even two kinds of fresh green beans available: one with butter and almonds, one Asian-style.)

Fresh Fields

1340 Smith Ave., 410-532-6700

Sure, Fresh Fields is known for its organic produce and natural foods. But its prepared foods are as gourmet as any in the area. The emphasis is on fresh produce and ethnic recipes; the stars of the show are a variety of interesting vegetable dishes.

You can create wonderful vegetarian meals with selections like the zingy vegetable quesadillas, sweet and sour tofu, Moroccan chickpea salad or a bean medley fragrant with cilantro. If you have a nonmeat eater in your family, you'll appreciate the convenience of not having to prepare a separate meal. Just pick up a vegetarian entree here.

Chicken and seafood are also on the menu, including herb-scented rotisserie chickens and sushi. They are good; but vegetarians and carnivores alike will enjoy the orzo with spinach, basmati rice salad with nuts and raisins, and the Algerian roasted peppers, tomatoes and eggplant. My only criticism is that some items are highly spiced, and unless you ask nobody warns you.

GlasZ Cafe

6080 Falls Road, 410-377-9060

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